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MINNESOTA MAKES MARSHALL A MEMBER OF ITS WOLF PACK

Say hello to the new Minnesota Timberwolves.

The NBA's worst team over the past five years has a new coach, a new owner, a new executive handling player negotiations and a new rookie signing his name on a monster contract.Whether all that means the Wolves will be new and improved remains to be seen. But there was plenty of optimism Tuesday as Minnesota introduced its No. 1 pick, mild-mannered Donyell Marshall, just hours after agreeing to pay him far more than any other player in the team's history.

"It's exciting," Marshall said of his nine-year, $42.6 million package. "But I think the most exciting thing for me was just being drafted. As a little kid, you don't think about the money, you just think about getting here."

Well, maybe not to Minnesota.

The Wolves have averaged a league-worst 61 losses since they joined the NBA in 1989. They were 20-62 last season, closed the year on a 10-game losing streak and fired coach Sidney Lowe last month, replacing him with Indiana Pacers assistant Bill Blair.

Lowe was a horrendous 33-102 in his season and a half. Worse yet, more than half those losses were by at least 10 points. He also lost control of the team last year, particularly volatile young stars Christian Laettner and Isaiah Rider.

"It's going to take a lot of work anywhere," said Marshall, the fourth pick overall in the draft. "All 11 lottery picks knew that was the situation coming in."

The Wolves are trying.

They hired a fresh face as their new coach. Blair never has been an NBA head coach, but he has a reputation for being strict with his players. General manager Jack McCloskey took over player negotiations after Glenn Taylor agreed to buy the team last month, and McCloskey made signing Marshall before training camp his top priority.

Camp begins Oct. 7, and Marshall will be the first No. 1 pick there from the beginning in four years.

"It says a great deal about Glenn Taylor and the work he's done, even when he was trying to get the building and all that straightened around as well," Blair said of Marshall's signing. "He knows how important this is to the franchise."

Taylor's purchase of the team still is hinges on a long-term lease deal at the Target Center. Those negotiations appear settled and are awaiting what is expected to be rubber-stamp approval from local agencies before the NBA rules on the deal next week.

But the team's future in Minneapolis seems as though it soon will be secure. The Wolves' reputation as a league doormat also could change soon if Marshall, the Big East player of the year, duplicates his college success.